Arapp Jeylanii: Youtuber, Comedian, and Somali Refugee. 

My name is Arapp Jeylanii. I am Somali, but I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My mother and the rest of my family were fleeing Somalia, and I was born in Kenya on the way. After that, we all fled to America in 1995 when I was 3 months old, including my four siblings- two brothers, two sisters, all older than me.

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Because I left Kenya at such a young age, I didn’t get to see much of what Africa really was. The main thing I had was images and videos and stories from my family. We all saw America as the land of the free. It’s the place where everyone needs to be, the place that everyone wants to be. We saw that change as I grew up.We got a lot of help from Christian organizations, but it was still a struggle for several years. We grew up in a pretty rough home. We started off in a two-bedroom apartment with my parents, two older brothers, two younger sisters who were born in America, and two older sisters in South Minneapolis. We were basically living off of government assistance until we got on our feet, though we were still receiving aid from various agencies.

The stereotypes that the media is spreading right now are that all Somalis depend on the government, even when we don’t need it. It’s not true. We were dependent for a couple years, but that was a base of support for us to become self-sufficient and stable on our own. It served its purpose and now we are thriving.

Currently, I’m a teacher at a daycare. I’m also travelling around different countries and states, experiencing other cultures. I put YouTube on pause, which is one of my main hobbies and sources of income. Being a refugee, there are always stereotypes. There’s never going to be a day where you don’t hear them. I take those stereotypes and turn them into comedy for my videos. The only way you can kill racism and xenophobia is with laughter. You can’t do it with anger alone.

I wasn’t into YouTube at first, I was actually into Instagram. I was a troublesome child and having problems at school, so My mom was actually the one who pushed my energy towards YouTube. She was like, “if you want to be all funny and get people’s attention, why don’t you channel it into videos?” which is exactly what I did. I started off with 15-second to a minute videos on Instagram, transitioning into longer YouTube videos. You can make a living on it, but you have to give it your all. There is no going to school or working and that’s something I can’t fully commit to right now. YouTube is really hit or miss too, so there’s no guarantee of success.

The more you grow, the more you reflect on how YouTube impacts your life. Most of the YouTubers these days are in their late 20’s, just starting their career. I have more time to think about if that’s going to be my platform or career I continue with. I want to finish school and get a better idea of what my time is going to look like. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, I’ve still gained a lot of valuable skills and experience from it that I can use for the rest of my life.

I don’t think I’m going to leave Minnesota, even though the snow is horrible. I just love it so much and don’t see myself ever moving anywhere else. I want to open a business, and this is a perfect place to do that, especially if you want your business to connect with and reflect your culture. I want to make Minneapolis more comfortable and accessible for other refugees growing up here and continuing to come here. I’ve been in Minnesota for 22 years, so we were kind of the first wave from Somalia. We had to figure everything out ourselves. Now, all of that information and support we needed is out there and resources are more readily available. We also have more recognition and representation, with the first Somali Muslim law maker, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and other powerful role models in our state.

The advice I received growing up was to learn the American ways. Something I regret is never caring as much about my cultural heritage as being assimilated. That’s one of the main reasons why I love doing videos; to remind people we are still Somali, this is still our culture, and we are free to celebrate and enjoy it. When we come to America, we try our hardest to fit in, make English our first language, and not draw attention to ourselves. In the process of doing that, we forget about our culture. This is especially true for the kids who are born in America. Always remember your culture, no matter where you are.

 

Felicia Philibert